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Cover crops and weed suppression in the U.S. Midwest: A meta‐analysis and modeling study

In addition to soil health and conservation benefits, cover crops (CCs) may offer weed control in the midwestern United States, but individual studies report varying effects. We conducted a meta‐analysis of studies measuring weed biomass (WBIO) or density (WDEN) in paired CC and no‐cover treatments in corn (Zea mays L.)–soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr] rotations in the U.S. Midwest. Fifteen studies provided 123 paired comparisons of WBIO and 119 of WDEN. Only grass CCs significantly reduced WBIO, while no CC reduced WDEN.

We found no evidence CC management factors (e.g., termination method) directly affected outcomes. Our dataset showed that a 75% reduction in WBIO requires at least 5 Mg ha−1 of CC. Simulations from a process‐based model (SALUS) indicated achieving 5 Mg ha−1 requires substantially earlier fall planting and later spring termination in most years, conflicting with typical cash‐crop planting and harvesting. We conclude CCs significantly reduce WBIO, but current CC management constraints render these reductions variable and uncertain.

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